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Handwriting Solutions?

The last thing I would want to do on my blog is embarrass either of my children. So I won’t be sharing a second grade handwriting sample from my seven year old son Bruce. But suffice to say, it would be embarrassing.

I know from experience teaching K-4, that in a classroom of 20 there are always at least one or two kids who really struggle with handwriting.

More often than not, they are boys, lefties, or both.

Bingo on both counts!

So this past week I’ve been taking a hard look at Bruce’s handwriting and analyzing the heck out of it. The thing is, even when he is trying really hard, he still can’t write legibly.

That tells me something important: He actually can’t do it.

Could he try harder? Yes. Is that the source of the problem NO.

I want to say that again, because I think it will be helpful for parents of kids who struggle with poor penmanship to hear:

Effort is not the primary source of the problem!

So what is?

Well, it’s not that his teachers haven’t taught handwriting. Montessori kicks butt at teaching handwriting. His first grade public school teacher had him cranking out D’nelian practice sheets every day for a full year.

I think what we’re dealing with is underdeveloped fine motor muscles.

Bruce doesn’t sew. He doesn’t knit. He doesn’t play with play dough anymore. The only fine motor practice he gets is with Legos and Snap Circuits.

So what’s my plan?

Here’s what isn’t my plan:

  • Encouraging him to try harder. (I’ve tried that and it doesn’t work!)
  • Yelling at him to try harder. (Tempting but…no.)
  • More D’nelian. (Why would I do more of what isn’t working?)
  • Play Doug (blech! A little known fact about me is that play dough makes me want to gag.)
  • Handwriting Without Tears (I’m keeping this one on the back-burner.)

Instead I poured over the Beyond Play catalogue. For those of you unfamiliar with Beyond Play, it’s a company that specializes in therapeutic toys for children with special needs. But you should check it out even if your kids are neurotypical because it’s awesome!

I’m planning a 3 pronged attack to the handwriting problem.

  1. DNA Balls. That’s the super cool ball Bruce is squeezing in the picture. We are going to keep one in the car for him to squeeze whenever we drive somewhere.
  2. Fancy Pencil Grips. I’ve ordered a whole variety of them. I’m going to write an I Brake for Moms blog post in the future about why pencil grips are like running shoes.
  3. Callirobics. 5 minutes of non-handwriting practice to music, every day for ten weeks.

I’ve never taught with Callirobics before, so Bruce is my guniea pig. But the cool thing is that it’s not concentrating on letter formation. Callirobics is about “eye-hand coordination, fine motor skills, and self-esteem”. At the end of every lesson kids are encouraged to doodle little faces into the lines of what they have drawn. If you know Bruce, then you know this is perfect for him.

Remember I said I was going to explain why I’m not going automatically with Handwriting Without Tears? That’s why! Bruce has already been hit over the head with letter formation. It’s not working!!! I want to come at this problem from an entirely different angle.  I also want him to have fun.

So ask me in January how this plan works out. I’ll share some before and after writing samples in the future.

Keeping Preschoolers Busy at Home

Remnants of the Sunday paper + 1 roll of tape + scissors + 1 preschooler = 1 hour of fun + a lot of fine motor skills practice!

I do wonder… Is it normal for a three-year-old to be able to concentrate on one activity for so long? Yay, or nay?

Scissors and Kids

I’m still practicing my relaxation breathing, because I just spent the past forty minutes helping Jeanna(2.5) learn to use scissors. This is the third time this week that she has practiced, and she LOVES it. Me? Not so much. 🙂

I almost had a major oops our first day when I didn’t know enough to put Jenna’s hair in a ponytail first. When Jenna looked down to cut out her first page, she almost gave herself an impromptu haircut.  That was never an issue with her brother Bruce!

It took me until day two to realize that Jenna moves her mouth up and down like she’s chewing gum every time she works the scissors. There must be some sort of brain connection in there that hasn’t matured yet.

We have been using an old I Can Cut book from when Bruce was little, but at this point Jenna is just butchering it. She’s just as happy to cut up our latest Zoo membership magazine. I’ll happy when I can someday trust her not to cut her own hair.  The stress is worth it though, because I know this is an important skill for my soon to be preschooler to learn.

Two Year Olds and Band-aids

A box of band-aids… The best Christmas present ever for a 2 and a half year old!  I’m going to remember this the next time we have to keep Jenna busy on an airplane.

GF/CF Chocolate Chip Cookies, My Two Year Old, and Some Fine Motor Fun

Today Jenna(2.5) and I made some chocolate chip cookies. It started out as your ordinary cooking-with-your-two-year-old experience. There was some extra hand washing, a few near misses with the mixing bowl, and a lot of warnings not to eat butter. Bob’s Red Mill Chocolate Chip Cookie Mix only required three added ingredients: 1 egg, butter, and water. That kept things pretty easy for cooking with a little one.

But half way through I felt like the chocolate chip cookie ratio provided in the mix was pretty slim. In a failed attempt to make thumbprint cookies by adding some Enjoy Life chocolate chips, I inadvertently fell upon the best fine motor skill activity ever!

(Sorry for the ugly picture of my yucky looking baking sheet.)

I pressed thumbprint marks into each cookie, and Jenna slowly and carefully filled each center with chocolate chips. It took her about ten minutes, and about 400 calories of chocolate chip consumption, but she got a big fine motor skill work out. This activity strengthens the same muscles that will one day help her hold a pencil correctly.

So the next time you are making chocolate chip cookies with your kids, give it a try! Here’s hoping you are making nice, normal, gluten filled cookies that don’t have a weird garbanzo bean aftertaste.

Fine Motor Fun

Today Jenna(2) had some fun with Montessori style practical life activities, that I totally stole from Postapocalyptichomeschool.blogspot.

Incidentally, two of Bruce’s favorite activities from Montessori were picking kernels off of Indian corn with tweezers, and grinding cloves with a mortar and pestle. Alas, I didn’t have the materials for either of those activities today.

Fine Motor Skills and Toy Kitchens

Jenna(25m) had her friend Sally(3y) over to play today and they had a lot of fun with our toy food collection and kitchen. 

I thought I would use the opportunity to work on color sorting, so I tried to introduce the idea of making “green soup”.  The girls were not interested in this idea in the least!



What they did want to do was play with tongs and cut fruit.   This was equally educational, because it worked on the fine motor skills that will eventually help them grip a pencil and write letters.  Of course, it meant that I had to sit there and re-velcro toy food for twenty minutes.  That was the one fine motor task they just couldn’t grasp.  (bad pun intended)  🙂